This trip was from 17 July – 18 August 2015. We flew in and out of Amsterdam.
Unlike our previous trips, we are going in the summer as we are taking our 16 year old granddaughter. So, we have booked all our accommodations.
Here is a summary of the trip.
DATE Distance SKm City
17-Jul-15 Fly Toronto Airport
18-Jul-15 37 37 Leiden
19-Jul-15 33 70 Delft
20-Jul-15 40 110 Gouda
21-Jul-15 4 114 Dordrecht (train)
22-Jul-15 53 167 Roosendaal
23-Jul-15 45 212 Antwerp
24-Jul-15 28 240 Ghent (train)
25-Jul-15 0 240 Ghent
26-Jul-15 46 286 Bruges
27-Jul-15 0 286 Bruges
28-Jul-15 52 338 Veurne
29-Jul-15 24 362 Dunkirk
30-Jul-15 12 374 Calais (train)
31-Jul-15 56 430 St Omer
1-Aug-15 50 480 Bethune
2-Aug-15 50 530 Lille
3-Aug-15 0 530 Lille Ypres-Vimy
4-Aug-15 0 530 Paris
5-Aug-15 0 530 Paris
6-Aug-15 0 530 Lille
7-Aug-15 26 556 Tournai
8-Aug-15 10 566 Leuven (train)
9-Aug-15 0 566 Leuven
10-Aug-15 29 595 Mechelen
11-Aug-15 25 620 Amsterdam (train)
12-Aug-15 0 620 Amsterdam
13-Aug-15 40 660 Alkmaar
14-Aug-15 0 660 Alkmaar
15-Aug-15 40 700 Edam
16-Aug-15 40 740 Haarlem
17-Aug-15 19 759 Badhoevedorp
18-Aug-15 6 765 Toronto Airport
Friday July 17 – Toronto Airport
Our friend Ed took us to the airport in the rain. Fortunately, it had stopped by the time we got to the airport to unload the bikes. It was great having Faye to help with the bagging of the bikes.
It was so much easier with 3. The flight from Toronto was uneventful and on time.
Saturday July 18 – Schiphol Airport to Leiden – 37 km
Our bikes got some damage. Mine had a broken kick stand and bell, plus messed up front brakes. Judy had a broken front fender strut. Faye’s bike came through intact. We were directed to a bike shop about 15km from the airport. We got immediate and excellent service at a reasonable price. He pumped our tires up as you cannot get enough pressure using the hand pumps we take. Note: you have let air out of the tires for the flight so that they do not explode. The temperature was great for biking – around 17C to start and up to 20C. There was wind though, about 25km/hr. It did slow Judy and I down, but not Faye so much. The ride went through small towns and along canals.
There were many beautiful homes along the small waterways.
Lots of bicycles out and about. We have to pay attention as we are slower than most of the locals. (Truthfully all of them, except the small children on Strider bikes, which have no pedals!) We saw a few parents with up to 3 children in a box built into the front of the bike.
We are staying in a B&B tonight which is part of the Friends of the Bike association. Only bikers and hikers are able to use the more than 4000 addresses in Holland & Belgium. This B&B has a private kitchen/dining area as well as a living room. The bedrooms are on the third floor with a private bathroom. We got takeout Chinese and ate in our kitchen. Jet lag has finally hit.
Sunday July 19 – Leiden to Delft – 33 km
We slept well for the first night of the trip. After a great breakfast, we got away around 10 am. A heavy rainstorm had gone through overnight. A second one hit as we biked towards Den Haag. We all have rain gear – except for shoe covers.
So, except for our feet we stayed fairly dry. We stopped at the central train station and had coffee as we draped our rain gear over our bikes to dry. The rain stopped so we went outside to find a bench to eat the lunch prepared by our B&B host. No seating in the large station! We saw a few people using the large bike parking racks which was “2 stories” high.
The sun came out as we toured around the capital of the Netherlands. A beautiful city with a contrast between the modern and old buildings.
Leaving Den Haag, we followed the signs to Delft. Past a construction site the signs disappeared. We had to stop at a Macdonalds to get directions.
We have a very nice hotel in the center of Delft. We walk a short distance to find a restaurant where we have an excellent meal.
Monday July 20 – Delft to Gouda – 40 km
Excellent breakfast buffet at the hotel.
I had forgotten to get a 10 Euro key deposit back from our Leiden B&B. Our host’s son would be able to pay us. He works at Delft University which is pretty much on our way to Gouda, so I did a new route using Google Maps. The university is huge – 15,000 students! He is working on a project building a hydrogen race car.
We continue on our way using Google maps directions. We decide to find a cafe around noon and bike 1km off our route. Our timing was good as it started to rain just as we found the cafe.
After lunch we are biking in the rain again. Our route has a lot of bike paths through the countryside.
Then we get a path beside an expressway.
We get a bit lost when Google indicted that we should bike down a pedestrian path, and law abiding bikers that we are, went looking for a street!
We are ready for the rain but not happy about it. It stops raining as we arrive in Gouda.
Our B&B is near the center. We have 2 bedrooms and a bathroom on the third floor. We have to climb 2 steep sets of stairs. The rooms are small, but it is cheap.
Supper is at a Dutch Tapas restaurant. We share a variety of small plates of food. Interesting.
Tuesday July 21 – Gouda to Dordrect – 4 km
We decided to take the train today. We bike to the train station in beautiful weather. It is only 45 min to Dordrecht including a change in Rotterdam. You can take bikes on the Intercity trains between 10:30 am and 4:30 pm. You have to buy a separate ticket for each bike. There are lifts to get us down then up to the platform. The bikes can only go on cars that have a bike symbol on the door. The train we get is a double decker, with 3 steps to get on. It is a 2 person operation to get each bike on as we leave the panniers on. One is on the back of the bike lifting the heavy panniers.
We stop in the Rotterdam station and find a Starbucks. Real filter coffee!☺
The train to Dordrecht is a regular single decker which has only 2 steps. Easier.
We bike to our apartment which looks over the junction of 3 canals. One goes to Rotterdam, one to Antwerp and the other to Germany on the Rhine. Owners not in, so we have lunch at a nearby cafe.
Huge barges going by. Our apt is on the ground floor, large and very nice.
We walk into the city and look around. A lot of sail boats in the marina as there are no locks or bridges out on the main canal which leads to the North Sea.
Supper is pizza at Picola Italia. We had eaten here 4 years ago and really liked the pizza.
Back at our apt our hosts have left us some homemade apple/cranberry cake – really good.
Wednesday July 22 – Dordrecht to Roosendaal – 53 km
A great breakfast in our apt. Host told us we could take any leftovers for lunch. So we made sandwiches and took some loaf slices. Great day for biking.
Cool (16C) to start, then up to 21C. We try Google maps to navigate again. It is better with the tablet mounted on the map holder. But can’t leave it on all the time as the battery won’t handle the whole trip. We cross the Holland Diep canal on a large bridge with separate lanes for bikes.
Our B&B is just inside the city as we come in from the North. It is in a quiet neighbourhood. We have 2 bedrooms. Quite good. Very nice retired couple.
We leave our bags and bike into Roosendaal. A nice small city with a square where we have a drink.
We return to the B&B and decide to bike in later for dinner as it 2 km away from the center.
With the sun setting around 9:45pm, we don’t have to worry about bike lights.
Thursday July 23 – Roosendaal to Antwerp – 45 km
Another beautiful day for biking.
After leaving Roosendaal, we Bike through farmers fields.
We are heading south so the westerly wind does not really bother us. We stop in Nipson for coffee, where Faye has coffee caramel with cream. We pass into Belgium without seeing any border signs. We go through Essen without finding a place to eat. In Wildert we get lunch makings at a supermarket. We make meat/cheese/tomato buns and have a stand-up lunch.
Faye is navigating and has problems with Google maps taking us away from our route. We are able to find our way into Antwerp. Will have to do more digging into how to use Google maps.
Antwerp is large with a busy downtown. We find our hotel near downtown. We are not impressed. The room we are given is not made up. The shower head holder was broken, the fridge did not work. Faye wonders why I picked this hotel! But the room was large, not expensive and it was near the city center.
We eat in the main square. Large old buildings face the square.
Couldn’t find an ice cream place open!😣
Friday July 24 – Antwerp to Ghent – 28 km
Breakfast is not included at our hotel, so we pack up and head for the train station. Antwerp has a magnificent central station.
We buy juice and sweet buns and eat standing up in the station. We decide to start biking to Ghent which is 57km away, and go through Sint Niklaas and perhaps take train from there.
To get across the Shelde River, we take tunnel which is just for bikers and pedestrians. There is an elevator which goes down 31 metres to the tunnel. You can take the escalator if you dare!
The tunnel is 572 m long and quite cool inside. On the other side of the river we stop for coffee.
Our route to Sint Niklaas is along highway N70. So, navigation is no problem. I try both Ridewithgps and Google Maps to see if we can use them better. They both have pluses and minuses. It may be best to use both.
It starts to rain so we put on rain gear. The rain is not hard and lasts only about an hour.
We decide to take train from Sint Niklaas, so we stop for a large lunch in a cafe by the large main square.
We get 9 tickets for the train. One each for ourselves, one for each bike to attach to the bikes (elastics provided), and finally one for each bicycle to put in our pockets! 3 steps up on this train!
Coffee stop outside Ghent train station. Then 2km bike to our B&B. We have a large room for the 3 of us. Very nice hostess.
She explains about the festival going on in the city, with thousands of people wandering around. We get a route and a restaurant along the way to try. The restaurant is fully booked so we wander into the city. All the restaurants are full and there are thousands of people!
We find a restaurant called “Balls and Glory”. They specialize in meat balls with various stuffings. They had 2 kinds: chicken with spinach or beef with cherries. We had the chicken. You can have potatoes or salad with it. The meal excellent!
We found the Aussie ice cream place open and had a scoop each. Walking back, we made a reservation for tomorrow night at the first restaurant we stopped at.
Saturday July 25 – In Ghent – no biking
It rained overnight and continued off and on through the day. We slept in and had a slow breakfast. We chatted with our hostess. She offered to do some washing for us which was much appreciated. We stayed in until about 1pm. This gave me time to bring the website up to date. We walked into the city and found a cafe for a light lunch.
The rain was still off and on until about 4:30. We visited the large church – St Bavo’s cathedral where Van Eyck’s mystic lamb altarpiece is located. Huge cathedral. The altarpiece is being restored so we did not go to see it. We also visited Sint Jacob’s church, which has a cafe inside. Quite unique. There was no sound echo what with the high ceilings.
The rain stopped and the festival crowds came out. We had an excellent. dinner in former convent.
Faye & I had Aussie ice cream again tonight.
Sunday July 26 – Ghent to Brugge – 46km
Had a good breakfast and a chat with our hostess. She is the manager of the city of Ghent’s bicycling infrastructure department. Ghent started to formalize their biking in the mid nineties. They are ahead of Antwerp & Brussels in biking facilities, but these cities now have more modern trails.
Cool and sunny to start. Our route is along the canal between the two cities.
We are heading west. The wind is from the south. We are making good time trying to beat the storm coming in from the sea. We stop for coffee and pit stop at a cafe. Quite a few racing bikers have stopped as well, only most are drinking beer!
We don’t beat the storm and put rain gear on around 1:30. We see a few WW2 German bunkers along the canal.
Near Moerbrugge we come across a war memorial to Canadian soldiers who died in a WW2 battle nearby. There were some from the Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders of Canada which I belonged to for a few years.
Rain is not too hard for a while, but it gets hard as we come into Brugge. Navigation was quite easy today as we followed the canal. As we got in Brugge it got tricky. Google Maps came through and got us to our central hotel.
By the time we got bikes put away and checked in, it was around 3:30! We have a late lunch then wander around the city.
A lot of chocolate shops in the city. We just had to try a couple out.
We look for a late and light dinner. But it is raining hard again so we pick a restaurant in the main square. Mistake. Prices were high and the food mediocre.
Monday July 27 – in Brugge
No biking today as we have 2 days in Brugge. We sleep in and make it to breakfast by 9am. Pretty good buffet included in the room rate. It is cool and raining off and on. We head out around 11 and join the crowds. Brugge is a popular tourist city and is very busy. We get a proper map at the tourist office. The lady there admitted that the main square restaurants were a rip off. She showed us an area where things were more reasonable.
We walked to the south to find the cheaper area. Masses of people. Many more chocolate shops.
We find a reasonable place for lunch. After some more walking, it was time for a Belgian waffle. Faye had one with strawberries and whipped cream. Judy and I split a plain icing sugared one. Good thing we are back on the bikes again tomorrow!
We decide that a large dinner was not necessary, so we got baguettes to take back to the room.
Judy & Faye went to the history museum and I took our shopping back to the hotel.
Tuesday July 28 – Brugge to Veurne – 52km – Avg: 12.2 km/hr
Time in the saddle: 4 hr 15 min
Another great breakfast buffet. It is cool and windy as we head out around 10am. We are heading west. Today the wind is from the west. Our route is mainly along canals. We are going towards Oostende then parallel to the coast – about 7 km from the water. We have 50km of punishment ahead of us!
The first 15km along the canal we have some trees to block the wind. After that it is brutal as there are fewer trees. The wind is averaging 30 km/hr with gusts around 55 km/hr. On one stretch we bike along a dike with no trees.
Coffee break at 11 where the beer selection is interesting. We stick with coffee!
Then lunch at 1:30. After lunch the wind feels stronger. It has clouded over and we get a few spots of rain, so we put on rain gear. The rain does not continue, but we keep the extra rain gear layer on because the wind is so strong. At times the wind knocks us back to 7 km/hr. For quite a while we only do 9-10 km/hr. It is like climbing a hill which never ends.
Someone must have succumbed to the winds and left their bike!
At long last we reach our hotel in Veurne around 5:30.
This has probably been our toughest day of biking ever!
We are close to the main square where there is a carnival on. We pick a restaurant in the square. Unlike Brugge, we have excellent meals at a reasonable price.
We wander around the square and decide to try oliebolens.
Deep fried sweet dough balls. Tasty.
Wednesday July 29 – Veurne to Dunkirk – 24km – Avg 13 km/hr
Time in the saddle: 1 hr 50 min
The wind was still from the west but not quite as strong as yesterday. We have a much shorter ride today. We get croissants and sweet buns and eat in the room. The ride goes through a few towns which provides shelter from the wind.
The border crossing into France is marked by a sign.
Not so many bike lanes in France.
We check into our hotel and rest. Still tired from yesterday. We go for a walk and find that we are too late to get into the military cemetery.
Thursday July 30 – Dunkirk to Calais – 12 km (train)
After 2 days of biking into the wind, we decide to take a break and train to Calais. Our train leaves from Dunkirk and is leaving from platform 7. Dunkirk has a small station so there is a walkway over the tracks. No worries about having to go up and down stairs.
The train is basically a roll on. (made by Bombardier) Lots of room for our bikes.
Only 45 minutes to Calais. We are able to check into our hotel. It is an old mansion with a huge winding staircase. The rooms are decorated with an old fashioned style. We keep our bikes and tour around Calais. We bike past the ferry docks to the beach. It is cool, but there are still people in the water. Not so cool to rule out ice cream though!
We go to the city cemetery where there is a military section. French, Belgium and some Germans are buried here. Mostly WW1, but some from WW2. Row after row. What a waste.
Friday July 31 – Calais to Saint Omer – 55.6km – Avg 14.1 km/hr
Time in the saddle: 3 hr 55 min
Got croissants, sweet buns and OJ and ate in the room. Not an early start – 11:00am.
We are travelling SE today. Guess what – the wind has switched to SE! Fortunately it is not strong – only 10 km/hr. But it would be good to have it with us for a change. We decide on a canal route which I have on Ridewithgps. Google Maps does not pick the full canal route, and I am not able to make changes to it. More on that another time.
The canal route has a few stretches that have rough asphalt which slows us down. But we are making good time in the cool temperatures. We start looking for a meal/washroom stop and there is nothing along the canal. So we head away from the canal to Saint-Marie-Kerque. It looked big enough on the map to have a food place. The one bakery in town was closed for vacation. The very small town hall was open so we talked to the man in charge who confirmed the bad news. There was a toilet at the town hall😂. It was 1:30. We decided to bike to Watten which was about 15 km down the canal. We were making good time when we had to go around an obstacle in the canal route. The alternative route I designed based on Google maps and Ridewithgps before we left. Somehow I made a mistake! The route away from the canal took us through a farmer’s field on a dirt path.
Finally we ended up on a path with a barrier across it. Fortunately I was able to find a way onto a highway to Watten. Lunch was at 3:30. We needed it – especially Faye.
We got back on the route and rode into St Omer and found our hotel. We have an excellent Italian meal nearby.
Saturday August 1 – St Omer to Bethune – 49.8 km
Another beautiful day. We decide to pay extra for breakfast in the hotel. We get away in good time – 10am. Our route looks straightforward along canals. We use Ridewithgps although Google maps gave the same route. Not long after leaving St Omer the path along the canal becomes gravel/grass. For 1.5km we bump slowly along. We cross the canal and get a better path. Soon the path ends at a gravel plant. Not sure why Google maps showed this as through.
We backtrack and find a highway that will take us to Bethune. It is fairly busy with no bike lanes. A little nerve wracking, but the French drivers are pretty courteous to cyclists.
We have a chance to look at the scenery, as the road is in good shape. We don’t have to look out for potholes! Lots of corn and wheat. We head into Aire sur la Lys for lunch. It was nice out so we wanted to eat outside. The first place would only serve us inside so we looked further and find the Frite wagon. We watch as a baguette get covered in fries. They call this Americain! So we order 2 with sausage. One for Faye and 1 for Judy and I. More than a meal!
It is rolling hills into Bethune. We are surprised how large and lively it is. We can’t get into my hotel until 6 so we find a cafe and have refreshments. Well deserved!
No lift in the hotel, so climb 2 flights. 2 rooms with a foldaway bed in one. Very modern.
We head to the square for dinner. Salads for Judy & I. Flammkeuken for Faye. A little cool out so we eat inside Very good.
Sunday August 2 – Bethune to Lille – 49.8km
We opt for breakfast in our room with the makings delivered last night. Bad idea! Plastic wrapped stuff was bland. Our first really hot day. A comfortable 17 to start with 27 max. Another canal ride of 43km. After leaving Bethune, we hit our first problem – the bridge in the canal is for pedestrians and has steps to get up then down. We decline the stairs challenge and find another route that gets us back to the canal. After a while the canal trail is blocked by a high gate. Google maps indicated that there was a through path. We backtrack and use Ridewithgps to find an alternate route. We plot another way only to get stymied by a construction blockage. We then follow some secondary roads, get back on the Ridewithgps route and find our way into Lille. It is busy on a Sunday. We have an apartment near the train stations. It is big. Faye stays in, and Judy & I go out for drinks. The beer goes down well. We end up ordering pizza to eat in the room.
Monday Aug 3 – Lille – Rental car to Ypres
Diary lost by tablet crash! Will update later. It showed up later!!
We have a day of WW1 site visits, and have booked a rental car. It is a short walk to the train station to pick it up. We have a compact Opel Corsa 1.4 turbo 4 Dr. A really peppy car.
We are heading to Ypres which is 45km north of Lille. I get used to using a manual transmission as we leave Lille. We get lost a couple of times, but get back on track using Google maps offline.
We visit the Flanders museum in the main square of Ypres. The history of the Ypres Salient battles is told in a very interesting way. Well worth the visit. The city of Ypres was completely destroyed during WW1. The city was rebuilt from original drawings to recreate the old buildings. The museum is in a replica of the linen building. Amazing work done in the rebuild.
After lunch we find the memorial to Col McCrea who wrote In Flanders Fields. There was a recreated bunker which he had used as a hospital during WW1. There is a cemetery there mostly British soldiers commemorated.
We decide to head back and return the rental car after taking a little while to find a gas station to fill up at. Gas is 1.39 euros. About $2.10 Cdn!
Tuesday Aug 4 – Train Lille to Paris
We are up early and get to the train station in plenty of time. We have coffee and croissants for breakfast. Train leaves on time but goes slow a few times so we are 10 minutes late arriving in Paris. We get Metro passes for 3 days and take Metro to our hotel. Room not ready, so we leave our excess luggage there. Not much luggage as we only brought a backpack each.
Today we have the Eiffel Tower booked for 2 pm. We stop at a cafe (Le Toucan) for a late morning snack. The waiter recognizes from yesterday and asks if we want the same. Looks like we are regulars already. We walk down to river (about 1.7km away). We pass by the place where we will be doing our cooking class tomorrow. The weather is beautiful. We have route planned to get to the Eiffel Tower, so we start off. One station we needed was closed and there was a bus to fill in the gap. We missed the stop near the tower and had to walk back 1.5km.
We have booked a “Skip the Line” package where we have to meet the rep at the Carousel in front of the tower. There are about 20 in the group. We get straight onto the elevator and avoid the long lines! What a bonus on a hot day. When we get off at the second level, we are given a brief outline of tower logistics, then we are on our own. Although the tower is crowded, you can get around OK. Clear day with a few clouds – great views. Our tickets include going to the top. We have to line up, but not too long. Worth going up for. We stop at a first level on the way down. There is a glass floor to get those of us who are wary of heights a little weak kneed.
It was well worth the extra money to skip the lines. We walk north away from the tower to get pictures and walk on the well worn grass. We were here with our children in 1987 when there were a lot fewer tourists. Our kids started to walk on their grass and were told to get off by a policeman. The grass is now a worn out mess.
Back at hotel, the clerk recommends a restaurant nearby. We have a great meal there.
We crash for a well deserved sleep.
Wednesday Aug 5 – in Paris
We all slept well after yesterday’s exertions.
Today is baking class day, so we are up on time, and have breakfast at Le Toucan. We take the Metro down to our baking class. We are early so we walk along the Seine River. The cooking class is near the city hall.
There are 7 in our class including 4 Americans. Our instructor is American who has spent half his life in France. The class is 3 hours long and is intense as we will be making croissants and a chocolate danish like pastry called escargot. We roll a half pound of butter into a flat sheet inside parchment paper. It goes in the fridge. We make the basic dough and have to knead it for 10 minutes. No machine for the class. We roll the dough into a sheet, then wrap it around the butter. The butter in dough is folded then rolled and folded and rolled again. Eventually we have a thin sheet which has many layers of butter/dough. The dough needs to rise overnight, so we are given dough from yesterday’s class. We cut the dough into long triangles, then roll them into croissants. They placed in an open warm oven. We make custard for the escargots. The custard is spread on a dough sheet, chocolate chips sprinkled on, then rolled up. The log is cut into rolls. We also make chocolate croissants. Two thin chocolate logs are placed at each end of a small square. Each end is rolled to the middle. We are tired. The various creations are then put in the oven to bake. They are good. We eat too much, but have lots to take with us. We all enjoyed the class and learned a lot. We will have to try this at home.
Thursday August 6 -in Paris – train in evening to Lille.
We sleep in a little as we are again tired. Today is our last in Paris and we just have Versailles on the list. We have a late breakfast at the hotel. I try to figure out a route to Versailles. The route recommended is partly under construction, as we discovered on the trip to the Eiffel tower. But there is no alternative online. While checking out, the clerk told us what route to take. It was under construction but there was an easy to follow alternate.
It was hot again, and Versailles was crowded. Judy and Faye got into the very long snaking line while I went and bought tickets. Like the Louvre, under 18s are free. Bonus. It is hot but the line is moving well. Inside there is a set route to follow. It is crowded. It doesn’t take long to get through the set route. Not much chance to look at things. But the hall of mirrors is worth the trip. A brief look at the garden then we leave. It is about 30C. A little breeze makes it somewhat bearable.
Friday August 7 – Lille to Tournai – 26km
Our clothes are not dry from the machine in our room which was supposed to wash and dry. The hotel has a small laundry for guests, so we use the dryer. Good breakfast at the hotel.
Beautiful weather with high of 25C predicted. Under 30km ride today. In France for 2/3 of the ride. We are on a secondary road which has a two way bike lane separate from the road.
It is a great ride. We ride initially through suburbs of Lille, then through countryside with slight rolling hills. This kind of ride is why we come to Europe to bike! We stop at a restaurant for our last French meal of the trip. It is a Friday and the place is busy. Excellent salad.
We cross into Belgium with no border signs. In Belgium we are on a busier highway with a bike lane as part of the road. Tournai has a beautiful old town square. We find our hotel easily – Ridewithgps worked well today!
We have 2 double rooms here as there were no triples. The hotel is close to the center.
Saturday August 8 – Tournai to Leuven (through Brussels) by train – 10km
We rush to catch our train which leaves at 8:44. We make it. But the bikes have to go into a bike car. It has room for 2 bikes on ceiling racks. Off come the panniers. Quite a job to lift them onto the hooks. We find out that we can’t take the bikes off at Brussels Central station as they can’t stop that long there We decide to get off at Brussels South. That goes fine. We bike into central Brussels. Although busy the streets have bike lanes. The main square is amazing as it is surrounded by old buildings. We have coffee in the square. We head for Manniken Pis and take pictures. Faye discovers a chocolate strawberry shop, so we get to share.
Soon we need lunch! So we share 2 excellent pizzas – there are leftovers which will come in handy later.
We get to Brussels central station and find that the train won’t stop long enough to get our bikes on. So, we leave for Brussels North station. The train we get is a simple roll on one with a bike section.
Leuven has a modern train station with new lifts for bikes. We bike into the center. Another beautiful city center! It is Saturday and the many cafes are busy. We stop for drinks. Beer for me!
Our hotel is about 1.1 km from the center. It is located in an old Beignhof area. These were set up centuries ago for widows of soldiers who wanted solitude without a devout church approach.
The hotel is one of our best so far. Modern with a large room. We walk into town where it is super busy on a beautiful evening. We have an excellent meal sitting outside.
There was room for ice cream which got us back to the hotel.
Sunday August 9 – In Leuven
We sleep in and have breakfast at the hotel. Very nice buffet breakfast. For 19 euros each it should be!
We walk into the center. Very nice center with lots of cafes and restaurants. It starts to rain so we find a place to eat. Ellis Burgers. Judy and I split one and Faye has her own. We split an order of frites. Very good.
We go back to our hotel. We have drinks on their very nice terrace.
As it is 1.1km to the center we decide to have dinner at the hotel. The temperature is a little cool so we eat inside. Pleasant spot.
A very relaxing day.
Monday August 10 – Leuven to Mechelen – 29 km
Another beautiful day. We forego the expensive hotel breakfast, and ride into town. We find an organic bakery “Le Pain Quotidien”. It was excellent. Croissant, raisin bread, sourdough bread and part of a baguette. We had leftovers for lunch. We have a short ride today along a canal. The path is good asphalt. Most of the way was bicycles only. Not much wind to worry about. We are heading NW to Mechelen which is between Brussels and Antwerp. There are planes overhead going to Brussels airport.
After coffee near the train station, we bike into the center. Another beautiful central square. Our hotel is near the center. We are able to check in. Good sized room, with a real shower stall! We crash for a while, then head over to the main square. Time for a late lunch. We order 2 decadent waffles and share them.
We walk around town. Several pedestrian streets with lots of shopping downtown. No big box stores here!.
We have good Greek food for dinner.
Tuesday Aug 11 – Mechelen to Antwerp – 25 km – then train to Amsterdam
Warm in the room last night as the mosquitoes were out and there were no screens on the windows.
Breakfast is included with the room. Quite good buffet. Even bacon and eggs.
Another beautiful day! We have been lucky for a while with the weather.
Today we are biking to Antwerp, then taking the train to Amsterdam. We decided to take the secondary highway N1 instead of the canal. The highway is busy but there is a separate lane for bikes.
The drivers are very aware of bikers. Several times cars turning right wait for us to pass.
The separate bike path goes all the way into the train station. This was a fitting conclusion to our biking in Belgium. Previously we had only biked for a few days in the eastern part of Belgium. We are quite impressed with the biking infrastructure here. Our favourite cities were the smaller ones. Leuven, Mechelen and Tournai stand out. As does Ghent. Brugge was a nice city but was unpleasantly busy with tourists.
At the Antwerp station we get a very helpful clerk who explained everything in excellent English. The tickets are open for any train that day. They leave every hour. We have some lunch then take the elevator down to the platform. Big modern train station.
No problem getting bikes on the train. Some delay along the way so we are a half hour late.
It is only 1.5km to our Vrienden place. We find it quite easily. We have 2 rooms in a large apartment. Our hostess is very helpful. After cleaning up, we join her for a drink. She then takes us for a walk around the islands where she lives. The islands were once warehouses for the dock area. They have been converted into apartments. A very nice community.
Later we walk into the city and go down a shopping street. Busy. We return and have dinner near our apartment.
Wednesday Aug 12 – in Amsterdam
After a good breakfast, we walk into Amsterdam and find the canal tours near the central train station. We get on the next one. It took an hour and was a great way to get a feel for the city. Bicycles everywhere. We spend the rest of the day walking around. This is the best thing about Amsterdam. You can walk to all the main attractions. You just have to watch out for bicycles!
We come back to our apartment and have a drink at the restaurant next to it. Our hostess joins us and gives us more background on the area. We decide to return to the restaurant and have an excellent meal.
Thursday August 13 – Amsterdam to Alkmaar – 40km
After breakfast we find the nearby bicycle shop our hostess recommended. Faye needs her brakes adjusted. The lady bike mechanic agrees to do right away. We walk to a cafe for a coffee. The bike is ready when we get back. A very friendly lady who told Judy that her tires didn’t need air. She gave us a screw on valve adapter in case we needed to pump up sometime later.
We bike west and north to get out of Amsterdam. Again bike lanes separate from the road. We cross the North Sea canal on a ferry, which is free for bikes – cars have to pay! We talk to a man on a racing bike. He is biking an 80km loop around Amsterdam. A little easier without luggage!
We bike about 20 km west with a helping north east wind. We make good time on the excellent bike paths.
We pass a crew painting a section of the bike path red. The paint smell was strong. Not low VOC for sure! The bike lanes are painted red in situations where they are next to sidewalks. Have to keep the pedestrians separate from the bikers. The bike route to Alkmaar is well sign posted.
The 10 km we head north so we feel some of the wind in our faces.
We find our hotel with only a minor detour. A very nice hotel – Amrath. It is a chain in Holland. There is a set of bike racks in the car park which is a nice change. Alkmaar has another very pleasant city center. We walk down the pedestrians only main shopping street to the canal that takes us to the main square.
Tomorrow the cheese market will be on here. Beautiful old buildings. We have another excellent meal. Pork tenderloin grilled, then half stuffed with Camembert cheesecake, honey and walnuts. Will have to try it at home.
Friday August 14 – in Alkmaar
Today is cheese market day in Alkmaar. We sleep in then head for some breakfast. I have uitmuiter – which is fried eggs on ham and white bread with cheese.
The city is jammed. We make our way to the square where they are selling the cheese. Big rounds of cheese are piled neatly around the square. We are able to get a seat in the small stands. It is mostly for the tourists. Not sure how much real buying and selling is going on. Pairs of men use wooden platforms with harnesses slung over their shoulders to carry 6 of the large cheese rounds.
We walk around the city following the many canals. The North Holland canal goes through here and links up with the main canal to the sea.
Saturday August 15 – Alkmaar to Edam – 40km
Some rain overnight with more predicted for today. We have breakfast at the hotel, then leave at a reasonable time. It is overcast, cool and threatening rain. We leave Alkmaar and head east. The wind has shifted to the NW so we get some help! The first 20 km are along canals on minor roads. The bike lanes are painted in red.
We stop for coffee and talk to 3 guys out for a Saturday bike ride. They are doing a 60km loop.
We meet the coast of the Isselmeer and turn south. We are below the dike level. We stop at a quaint spot for lunch, which specializes in apple pie. We start with grilled cheese and end with some great apple pie. Two of us have whipped cream!
We arrive in Edam to find that the whole town has been turned into a flea market. We walk around a bit then decide to try our B&B. We check into our second floor room. Have to watch the ceiling as it slopes. By the time we go out for dinner, the flea market is over. Edam is not a large city. Our choice of restaurants is a good one.
Sunday August 16 – Edam to Haarlem – 40km
We had a very bad sleep, at least I did, as the third bed in our B&B was a very small mattress on the floor. Plus we had mosquitoes!
Another cool day but no rain. We are heading west and find that the wind has switched to the NE! Bonus!
We bike for a while through the city of Purmerend. We follow a small canal on a road. Faye comments that it is like the first day. The houses have a small bridge over the canal then a fancy tall iron gate. The houses are quite large with beautiful gardens. There is little traffic making the ride pleasant.
We have a ferry crossing – again free for bikes. We talk to 2 men who are on mountain bikes. Mountain bikes in Holland? They explain that a few garbage dumps have been converted into mountain bike parks.
It is Sunday so there are a lot of bikers out. We see a lot as we come into Haarlem.
Our hotel is right in the center. It is old but quite nice. We have a large room with a separate seating area.
We walk around the shopping area. Faye is looking for more Birkenstocks. No luck.
Late we get to a restaurant just before the rain. Thai style food. Very good.
Monday August 17 – Haarlem to Badhoevedorp – 19 km
It rained most of the night and is still raining in the morning. We have a leisurely breakfast. The Rick Steeves 21 day European tour stays at this hotel for 2 nights at the beginning.
We take our time getting ready and leave around noon in the rain. We have less than 20 km to go and the hotel is a basic one near the airport.
We do have one adventure. Google maps shows a simple left turn onto a highway. The highway has a bridge over the canal we are on and is about 25 ft above us. There is a stairway with a trough on each side to push the bikes up on. We did it!
We find a place to get sandwiches to go in Badhoevedorp.
The trip is over except for a short 5 km ride to the airport tomorrow. Yes we can ride right into the airport!
Tuesday August 18 – Badhoevedorp to Schiphol Airport – 6km
It rained most of the night and early in the morning. But as we leave about 9am it has stopped, but looks like it could start again. So we put on the rain gear. We are north of the airport. There is a paved bike path which starts near the hotel and goes around the north then west side of the airport. To get to the terminal there are 2 tunnels under the main runways. One is for cars the other for bikes and motor scooters. The tunnel is 600 meters long! The bike path goes right up to the entrance to the terminal.
We have to repack our panniers with the rain gear, take pedals off and put compression straps around the panniers to make 1 bag each. At checkin we turn the handle bars. There we find that they do not have any big plastic bags for the bikes.
Adventure time! They said to try KLM who might sell us some boxes. So we head to the other terminal (same building) about 500 meters with the bikes. A friendly KLM agent said that they could not sell bike boxes to non-KLM passengers. We were directed to the baggage storage counter in the basement. Here they had fairly large cardboard boxes. We had to take the front wheels off and the axles off. We found some small discarded boxes which we ripped up and placed under the front forks to keep them from going through the bottom of the box. The boxes were quite ingenious as they started out flat. With a lot of folding and tab insertion the box came together well. We had to get the boxes back to Air Transit. We put 2 boxes on one trolley and one on another. We made it through the crowds with me leading.
Airports were not designed to handle oversized baggage. They all have designated places for the checking and receiving of large stuff, but they are typically small and difficult to maneuver to and around. Anyways, we made it and the bikes got onto the conveyor belt.
The bikes arrived in good shape so the hassle with the boxes was worth it. The boxes cost 23 Euros each. Air Transat waived their normal 22 Euro bike fee because they did not have bags.
It has been a great trip. Faye will have many memories of it. We did about 750 km with mostly good weather.